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Justice For Black Lives Press Conference and the failure of local news agencies holding systems of power accountable

November 22, 2021

Earlier today, on Calder Plaza in downtown Grand Rapids, Justice For Black Lives held a Press Conference to address the actions of the GRPD during their Saturday evening protest in response to the Kyle Rittenhouse not guilty verdict.

Several people spoke, including three of those that were either arrested or detained by the GRPD. In some cases, the GRPD stopped people with guns drawn on those that were protesting. Even those who were just detained, they were forced to get out of their car, at gunpoint, and then handcuffed before being released.

You can watch the entire Press Conference, which WXMI 17 recorded, at this link. There were two TV stations and one radio station present for the Press Conference. When it came time for Q & A, only the WXMI 17 reporter asked questions. You can’t hear him in the video very well, but the first question was, “It seems that you are all having to not only protest the issues you are confronting, but protesting the right to protest. Do you find this frustrating?”

The second question also centered on Justice For Black Lives, asking, “Where do you go from here? What will you do next?” 

In both cases Justice For Black Lives graciously responded to the media questions. It is unfortunate that the WXMI 17 reporter, or the other two reporters, failed to ask questions about the GRPD, about the failure of Grand Rapids City Officials to respond or act on their demands, or the larger systemic problems related to how activists and organizers are met with repression in this city, especially those that do not engage in performative activism. 

The news media would do well to explore these questions, which essentially means that they would have to confront systems of power in this city, something that they rarely have done in the 40 years that I have been involved in media accountability work. Let’s see if the local commercial news outlets will follow up with the GRPD, not to just get their take on the latest attempts to repress members of JFBL, but actually confront them on their tactics and their use of state violence against people demanding police accountability and police defunding. My guess is that they will chose to not confront systems of power, either the GRPD or Grand Rapids City Officials.

BIPOC people are arrested, harassed and detained during a Grand Rapids protest responding to Kyle Rittenhouse being allowed to shoot and kill two people without any consequences

November 21, 2021

On Saturday night, about 50 people showed up to a protest organized by Justice For Black Lives (JFBL), a protest that was in response to the not guilty verdict in the Kyle Rittenhouse case.

The plan was to march around downtown Grand Rapids, to chant and to demonstrate our collective outrage that a white teenager can shoot and kill two people and not be convicted of murder.

Before the march began, JFBL organizers want to provide space to people to talk about how they felt after the Rittenhouse verdict. There were roughly a dozen people who spoke, addressing the double standard that exists for Black people and white people in the so-called criminal justice system. However, the loudest applause came when one of the JFBL organizers stated, “the justice system didn’t fail in Rittenhouse case, it was designed to do exactly what it has always done, to protect whiteness and property, but never Black and other BIPOC people.”

The march then woven through downtown Grand Rapids, with people chanting and disrupting business as usual – shopping and entertainment. 

Both before and during the march, there were two commercial TV stations that came to report on the protest, channel 13 and 17. The WZZM 13 story was brief, but still centered white voices. In addition, the channel 13 story said that the people who came to the protest wanted to “change the system,” when in fact they wanted to get rid of the system. Lastly, the WZZM 13 news reader said that two people were arrested, but the arrests were unrelated to the protest, according to the GRPD. 

The WXMI 17 coverage wasn’t much better, with the news reader also relying on the GRPD, along with centering several white voices over the one Black voice in the story. At one point that story states:

The protesters marched around a few blocks downtown, three of them carrying guns by their sides, but remained peaceful. “I don’t know who they are or what side they are on, but I don’t see any reason for them to be armed,” Whittington said.

It is interesting how they framed this part of the story, saying that people “remained peaceful”. What was worse is to follow that framing with a quote from a white woman who didn’t know which side those with guns were on and that there was no reason for them to be armed. 

First, BIPOC have every reason to be armed and to protect themselves, since the police can do pretty much whatever they want in these situations.The people who were carrying weapons were there to provide security for the rest of us who were marching. Why is it that white people think they can dictate to BIPOC people about safety and security? The same conversation was had last year in Allendale, after some white protestors were upset because there were BIPOC people with guns.

When BIPOC groups like Justice for Black Lives organize an action, like the one on Saturday night, White people should generally never talk to the news media. As was the case with both channel 13 and 17, white voices were elevated over the one Black voice. White people should come to offer support and solidarity when BIPOC people organize these kinds of actions. If the news media wants to do an interview with you, before you talk to the media, you should check in with the event organizers first.

Lastly, it is deeply problematic for the local news media to uncritically rely on the GRPD as a news source. Just because the GRPD says people were arrested and then claimed it was unrelated to the protest, doesn’t mean it is true. At a minimum, the news media should have talked to someone from Justice For Black Lives or those who witnessed the arrests.

What is important to note about the arrests is that it happened after the protest disbanded. The GRPD showed up with an estimated 20 cops on bicycles, in riot gear, after the protest had taken place. We have seen this strategy used by the GRPD before, since people are often more vulnerable after an action has taken place. 

In addition, there was a carload of JFBL organizers that were stopped, told to get out of the car, handcuffed and detained by the GRPD. They were eventually released, but this incident further demonstrates the ongoing harassment of JFBL organizers, supporters and anyone calling for the defunding of the GRPD.

There was video of people being detained and one person who had been arrested. One of those arrested was a Black man who had a firearm with him during the march, a firearm for which he had a permit. The other person arrested, was charged with “disturbing the peace,” which is just a vague charge generally applied to anyone the GRPD wants to arrest. 

There were also White Supremacists who had been following the march in their car. Several witnesses believe they were not only filming those who participated in the march, but that they are the ones who called the GRPD. 

One witness said:

After the police and most of the group had left the corner on Division & McConnell, the white supremacist couple drove around the block for nearly a half hour, still filming and staring at people who were waiting for rides or getting gas. The car was red, a smaller model, and had been seen multiple times following the march as well as on Division. They made several clear, violent threats towards our group and some individual protesters, which can be heard on some of the other streams from that night.

To be clear, Justice For Black Lives organized a protest in response to the Not Guilty verdict given to a white teenager who shot and killed two people at a Black Lives Matter protest in Wisconsin. The GRPD showed up in riot gear to arrest, harass, intimidate and detain BIPOC people during the JFBL protest, simply for pointing out that White Supremacy is woven into the very fabric of the so-called Justice System in America. 

iCI Nation: Another Police Apologist group in the Grand Rapids area

November 17, 2021

For the past several years, we have been writing about the pro-police group known as Voice For the Badge (VFB). VFB has been vocally opposed to immigrant justice demands to have the GRPD sever its ties with Immigration, Customs and Enforcement, and since the May 2020 uprising has been an unapologetic defender of the GRPD.

As we have also noted, the GRPD has had tremendous support from Grand Rapids City officials, both on budgetary matters and with a failure to hold them accountable in numerous cases involving GRPD abuse of Black people, along with the ongoing targeting of political activists.

In July, we wrote about a more recent GRPD program called Clergy on Patrol, where faith leaders are invited to participate in GRPD training sessions and ride-alongs. This program has also come under scrutiny by the Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists, since it clearly violates Church and State separation.

Then in October, several clergy participated in a so-called Unity Walk with the GRPD. In the aftermath of that event, we discovered that there is another pro-police group in the Grand Rapids area, one that has been around longer than Voice For the Badge.

The group is known as iCI Nation, and the only reason we found out about them, was the fact that they produced a video about the so-called Unity Walk in October. iCI Nation claims that it’s mission is, “to provide a healthy environment for the Community to build trust with law enforcement.” Part of the reason why we have not heard about them until recently, has to do with the fact that they do not have leadership that seeks attention, unlike Johnny Brann Sr. (with VFB), plus they primarily do behind the scenes work.

The founder and leader of iCI Nation is Jennifer Franson, which according to her Linkedin page, she has been the leader since 2015. There have been a few articles about iCI Nation in the mainstream press, but these articles are less political in that the iCI Nation has primarily engaged in appreciation work with local law enforcement.

iCI Nation has four community partners listed on their website, Marge’s Doughnut Den, Urban Family Ministries, DLS Servicing Consultants LLC, and PeaceWalker. PeaceWalker is run by a guy who does self-defense training, but combines a strange sort of patriotism with his work. Urban Family Ministries has on its staff, Elijah Libbett, who has also had a very public relationship with VFB leader, Johnny Brann Sr. Libbett  participated in Unity Rally in July of 2020, which was really an All Lives Matter rally.  DLS Servicing Consultants LLC, is owned by Donna Schmidt, who also is the Treasurer for iCI Nation. 

While iCI Nation is not as visible as Voice For the Badge, make no mistake about it, they are a committed to defending local cops, no matter how often the local police harass, intimidate and target Black and Brown communities, along with activists who are calling for defunding. 

Far Right Michigan State Senator Tom Barrett announces he is running for Congress, while the news media fails to provide any real background on his voting record

November 16, 2021

On Monday, Michigan State Senator Tom Barrett, announced that he is running for Congress in the 2022 Elections. 

In standard commercial news media fashion, MLive reported on the Barrett announcement, choosing to use Barrett’s talking points, instead of providing the public with a history of Barrett’s tenure in Lansing.

The MLive article begins with Barrett’s video announcement, with a detailed narrative of the video, without any verification of the claims made in his video. From there, the MLive article pits Barrett as a staunch opponent of Gov. Whitmer’s COVID policies, from the lockdown in 2020 to vaccination issues.

While the stance that Tom Barrett has taken on the pandemic, vaccinations, mask mandates and fighting to give parents control over school curriculum is how the MLive reporter would like us to view Barrett, the article does not challenge Barrett’s views, nor does the reporter bother to explore the significance of these issues.

More importantly, the public would be better served with a more robust look at Barrett’s voting record as a member of the Michigan legislature, along with his numerous public pronouncements, which can be found at this link.

In 2019, as we reported, Barrett made the following statement about immigration activists demanding driver’s licenses, when he said:

“We have to respect the laws of our country, not encourage or reward people for being here illegally.”

Such pronouncement would not come as a surprise to those who have followed Barrett’s political career, on matters of immigration and race relations. In fact, in 2018, Barrett proposed legislation to make English the official language for the State of Michigan. While the MLive article presents Barrett as a Conservative, a more accurate reflection of what Tom Barrett really believes could best be described as someone who embraces a White Supremacists worldview.

In the final paragraphs, the MLive article then juxtaposes Barrett with his likely opponent in the 2022 Congressional race, Rep. Elissa Slotkin. Just as the MLive reporter gives us no real history on Barrett’s voting record, the same is the case with Slotkin. Providing the public with an accurate breakdown of Slotkin’s voting record would be easy, since this information is compiled at the online source known as Vote Smart. Here is a link to the chronological voting record of Elissa Slotkin.

Lastly, there is no information provided in the MLive article in regards to who financed Barrett’s run as a State Senator. This information would be beneficial for people to know, since in electoral politics it is always important to follow the money. Plus, the MLive reporter could have reached out to previous campaign contributors to see if they will financially back Barrett’s bid for Congress.

A new proposal for increased police funding in Michigan, with more misleading rhetoric from the GOP

November 15, 2021

Earlier this month, there was proposed legislation that would provide an additional $250 million for policing in Michigan.

According to a November 12th MLive article:

The $250 million supplemental budget proposal, House Bill 5522, is focused on recruitment and retention, community outreach and equipment upgrades building on an earlier $80 million plan approved by the House in May.

Michigan’s House Speaker, Jason Wentworth was quoted in the MLive article as saying:

“Michigan’s men and women in uniform deserve to know that they are a priority and that their work is important to us. In an era when far too many people are attacking law enforcement and looking for ways to defund the police, we chose to stand with them and find solutions together.”

This statement from from Rep. Wentworth is misleading, in at least two ways. First, the fact is that police budgets at the state level and the local level have not been reduced at all over the past 18 months, despite the push in numerous cities to defund the police. In fact, in some cities, like Grand Rapids, the funding for police has actually increased. 

The second way that Rep. Wentworth provides a misleading comment is when he says that the GOP plans to “stand with them a find solutions together.” Besides the fact that Wentworth provides no concrete solutions, he doesn’t even clarify what the problem(s) are. If the problem is crime, as is usually the case coming from politicians, then they need to demonstrate that police funding actually prevents crime. According to a report by Interrupting Criminalization, police overwhelmingly do not prevent crime.

The MLive reporter also does not verify this claim from Wentworth, although they do point out that not only are Michigan Democrats not pushing to Defund the Police, this Republican proposal is similar to what Gov. Whitmer proposed her Michigan Safe Communities Plan back in July. This point underscores the bi-partisan nature of support for the police, which has been the case for decades, as we noted in a post from last year.

The bipartisan support for police departments is also true based on the amount of money that police unions contribute to both the Republicans and the Democrats. In fact, at the federal level, the Fraternal Order of Police has contributed more to Democrats than Republicans over the past 20 years. The bi-partisan funding is also the case at the state and local level, based on the data provided by the group No More Cop Money.

In Michigan, No More Cop Money has been documenting police union contributions to politicians since 2015, which you can find at this link. Based on this data, Michigan House speaker Jason Wentworth has received $1,250 from police unions, as have the two Republicans who co-sponsored House Bill 5522, Republicans Mike Mueller ($800) and Thomas Albert ($500). 

It is worth noting that House Bill 5522 is now headed to the Appropriations Committee, which has rough one third of the members of the Appropriations Committee have received funding from police unions in recent years.

Appropriations Committee members that have received police union contributions:  

  • R Mary Whiteford $200
  • D Joe Tate $1,500
  • R Sue Allor $1,000
  • R Tommy Brann $2,500
  • R Jeffrey Yaroch $150
  • R Sara Lightner $250
  • D Abdullah Hammoud $250
  • D Ronnie Peterson $1,000
  • R Greg VanWoerkom $2,000
  • D Terry Sabo $3,000

The newly proposed bill to provide additional funding to police departments in Michigan to recruit and retain officers is likely to pass, especially since both political parties are not only supported by police unions, they both have consistently supported police funding. The only major difference is the overtly pro-cop rhetoric that the GOP uses, but make no mistake, support for police departments is a bi-partisan affair. 

Jandernoa Entrepreneurial Mentoring: A perfect formula to main the interests of the Capitalist Class in West Michigan

November 14, 2021

Last week, both of the local business papers – Grand Rapids Business Journal and MiBiz, published articles celebrating the 11th year of Jandernoa Entrepreneurial Mentoring (JEM). 

Named after a member of the Grand Rapids Power Structure, Michael Jandernoa, the articles in both business presses covered two main themes. The first theme addressed more of the mission of Jandernoa Entrepreneurial Mentoring. Early on in the Grand Rapids Business Journal article, CEO and founder Michael Jandernoa is quoted as saying:

Our goal has always been to develop better leaders that would in turn build stronger businesses. Because if we have stronger businesses and leaders, it will benefit West Michigan community members for generations to come.”

Naturally, the reporter for the GRBJ does not question the goal of the mentoring program, particularly how strong businesses benefit community members for generations ton come. I would agree that some members will benefit for generations to come, but most people are not better off because there are strong businesses. 

West Michigan is known to have a significant entrepreneurial history, yet large portions of the population have not benefited from strong businesses. The poverty levels have been hovering between 20 – 30% overall since the beginning of the 1960s. These numbers have been higher for BIPOC communities, with 30 – 40% living in poverty.

These statistical dynamics are consistent with what the CEO and Founder of Jandernoa Entrepreneurial Mentoring program, Michael Jandernoa, has been involved with for the past four decades. 

Michael Jandernoa has been the CEO of numerous companies in West Michigan over the years, such a Perrigo and 42 North Partners. In addition to making significant profits for the shareholders of these companies, Jandernoa has been deeply involved in furthering the political ideology of the Capitalist Class. Jandernoa has done this in three ways.

  • First, Michael Jandernoa has been a significant campaign contributor to Republic candidates running for local, state and federal officers. In an article published on the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, Jandernoa had contributed $592,000 in 2017 for the 2018 election cycle, making him the 15th largest contributor in the State of Michigan at that time.
  • Second, Jandernoa sits on the boards of key organizations that influence both economic and public policy in West Michigan, such as the West Michigan Policy Forum, Business Leaders for Michigan and Spectrum Health. 
  • Third, like many of the other members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure, Jandernoa has his own foundation, the Jandernoa Foundation. The Jandernoa Foundation provides funding to entities that are ideologically aligned with his interests as a member of the Capitalist Class, meaning they either promote the same goals or they provide charity, which never disrupts power.

The second major theme of the articles in the local business press have to do with the fact that Jandernoa Entrepreneurial Mentoring is now offering their mentoring services to non-profit directors. Well, not all non-profit directors, only those who have a budget of $2.5 million or more. 

The Grand Rapids Business Journal lists three non-profits that have already had their CEOs or members of the administrative staff, which have participated in the Jandernoa mentoring program – Mel Trotter Ministries, Kids Food Basket and The Storehouse. What is consistent with all three of these non-profits, is the fact that none of them address root causes of poverty or inequality, plus they all practice in a form of White Saviorism. 

Therefore, what Michael Jandernoa and Jandernoa Entrepreneurial Mentoring have accomplished is what other successful members of the Capitalist class have achieved. Jandernoa and his mentoring program have achieved the perfect formula of making massive profits for a small sector of society, then use part of that wealth to influence public policy and to fund non-profits, which will never disrupt the wealth gap in their community, but provide just enough charity to pacify people who, if organized, would be the biggest threat to the Capitalist Class.

Request for GRPD Transparency on all Equipment & Weaponry

November 10, 2021

On Tuesday, I sent a letter to City Manager Mark Washington, Mayor Bliss and the six City Commissioners. The letter, included below, is requesting that the GRPD make public all the equipment and weaponry they have at their disposal. 

The motivation for my request is fold. First, I believe that since people who reside in this city pay taxes, they have a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent. Second, I believe that the public should be aware of the types of equipment and weaponry the GRPD possess, since it could be used against them someday. Lastly, I think it is important to acknowledge that many people – activists and particularly BIPOC and Queer residents – have directly experienced the use of equipment and weaponry against them in recent years. 

Now, I do not expect any response to this letter, since many of us in this community who communicate with City Officials on a regular basis, rarely receive responses from those who claim to serve us. The continued failure to practice basic aspects of democracy, such as communication, further demonstrates that City officials would rather not confront systemic injustice in this community, which ultimately makes them complicit in the systemic injustices many of us are attempting to dismantle. 

Here is the letter I sent on Tuesday, November 9th:

After searching the Grand Rapids Police Department section and the Office of Oversight and Public Accountability, I was unable to find information on the equipment and weaponry that the GRPD has available for use.

In the interest of transparency, the public has a right to know the different types of equipment and weaponry that the GRPD has access to, along with the quantity of each. The public has a right to know this because, 1) the public pays for it all equipment & weaponry, and 2) the public should be aware of the kinds of equipment or weaponry that may be used against them.

I am requesting that the City of Grand Rapids, the Grand Rapids Police Department and the Office of Oversight and Public Accountability make this information public and accessible on the City of Grand Rapids webpage. This information should be easy to find and easy to navigate.

In addition, the public has a right to know if the GRPD is using any equipment or weaponry that has previously been used by or purchased through the US Department of Defense, items that would be considered military surplus

I am asking for the following information:

Equipment

  • Types of vehicles the GRPD has and the quantity of each type, including SWAT vehicles and other tactical vehicles.
  • Types of protective gear used by police officers, such as helmets, bulletproof vests, etc, along with quantity of each type.
  • Types of surveillance equipment, including cameras, scanners, radar detection, drones, video editing, computers, and any communication devices used while on patrol, along with the quantity of each type.
  • Types of bicycles and exercise equipment, along with quantity of each type.
  • Data storage, whether we are talking about hard drives, thumb drives, etc. and the quantity of each.

Weaponry

  • Types of firearms that the GRPD has available, including pistols, rifles and any other type, along with the quantity of each.
  • Types of weaponry that GRPD officers generally carry, such as pepper spray, tasers, clubs/night sticks, handcuffs, zip ties, mace spray, and any additional weapons, along with the quantity of each.
  • Crowd Control weapons, such as tear gas canisters, tear gas launchers, stun guns, rubber bullets, water canons, flashing canisters, concussion grenades, etc, along with the quantity of each.
  • How many police dogs does the GRPD have at their disposal, which also can be used as weapons against civilians.

I’m sure that there are items not mentioned, which underscores the point that the public does not even know what equipment and weaponry uses or is available to use if they chose to use it.

It would seem that this information is likely to already be part of the GRPD’s inventory, thus readily available in a spreadsheet or in other formats. 

Please make this information available immediately, as the public has a right to know what kind of equipment and weaponry can be used against them.

Radical Imagination and funding priorities during a Climate Crisis

November 9, 2021

As the United Nations Climate Change Summit, often referred to as COP26, enters its last week, most climate activists around the world realize that these gatherings of world leaders do not and will not result in any serious plan to reduce our collective dependence on fossil fuels.

Over and over again, the Climate Justice Movement, particularly in the Global South, have made it clear that the most powerful nations on the planet continue to use lofty rhetoric, but fail to embrace policies and practices that will avert further climate disaster.

As many climate activists have pointed out, world leaders are ultimately beholden to the Neo-Liberal Capitalist economy that drives the push towards global climate disaster. 

Many climate activists also have been pointing out for years that we often fail to radically imagine a different world, a world outside of Capitalism and dependence on the use of fossil fuels. One clear example is centering around funding priorities.

Most of us are probably aware of the fact that the fossil fuel industry receives massive taxpayer subsidies.Global giveaways to oil, gas, and coal companies total more than $444 billion per year. That’s nearly $1 million every minute.

In the US, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute reported that direct subsidies to the fossil fuel industry total $20 billion per year, with 80% going toward oil and gas. This is exactly why the fossil fuel industry spends millions every year to contribute to political candidates and to lobby CongressOpenSecrets.org reported that the fossil fuel sector had already spent $81.9 million on lobby in the first three quarters of 2021, just prior to COP26.

Now, if we were to apply some radical imagination in the US, what could we do with the $20 Billion we give to the fossil fuel industry in subsidies? How much could $20 Billion reduce student debt? How many homes could be built for $20 Billion? What could $20 Billion a year buy in terms of sustainable energy? And remember, this happens on an annual basis.

Another are we could exercise out radical imagination would be in looking at how much money the US spends on militarism and war. In a recent report put out by the National Priorities Project and the Institute for Policy Studies, they provide us with some very clear numbers on what the US has spent on militarism since 9/11.

The US has spent $21 Trillion on foreign and domestic militarism. Here are some numbers these groups provide, that practice a radically imagined use of $21 Trillion that would support life-affirming projects.

For far less than it spent on militarization since 9/11, the U.S. could reinvest to meet critical challenges that have been neglected for the last 20 years:

    • $4.5 trillion could fully decarbonize the U.S. electric grid.
    • $2.3 trillion could create 5 million jobs at $15 per hour with benefits and cost-of-living adjustments for 10 years.
    • $1.7 trillion could erase student debt.
    • $449 billion could continue the extended Child Tax Credit for another 10 years.
    • $200 billion could guarantee free preschool for every 3-and-4-year old for 10 years, and raise teacher pay.
    • $25 billion could provide COVID vaccines for the populations of low-income countries.

In 2020, Senators Markey and Sanders proposed legislation to cut the $740 Billion US Military Budget by 10%, thus diverting $74 Billion to social programs. The Senate voted against such a proposal by a vote of 77 – 23, with both Michigan Senators voting against reducing the US military budget. 

When people ask how can we pay off the student debt in the US, Medicare For All, or any number of project areas that would improve millions of lives of US residents, it is never a question of money, rather it is always a question of priorities.

This is one of the arguments that the Defund the Police Movement has been making. Since there is no serious evidence that policing prevents crime and violence in the US, what if the money we currently spend on policing was diverted to programs and projects that specifically benefit BIPOC communities. 

These are not only the kinds of questions we need to be asking ourselves, but we need to practice radical imagination in our organizing work so that other people can see how they would benefit from these kinds of priority shifts, along with the fact that our planetary future depends on it. 

GRPD gets funding for Mental Health & Wellness, the community gets traumatized

November 8, 2021

One item on the October 26th City Commission Agenda, from a recommendation through the Fiscal Committee (pages 9 – 10), was a $120,000 grant to be awarded to the GRPD from the US Department of Justice.

The DOJ grant came from their FY 2021 Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act program. According to the Fiscal Committee’s Agenda packet:

The award in the amount of $120,000, will enable the GRPD to implement a universal in-service mental health wellness training for sworn officers and eligible civilian staff. The project will address risk factors that can damage public trust, with goals to build community trust and transform departmental culture around mental health. The award period for this grant is September 1, 2021 through August 31, 2023, with no match required.

The Fiscal Committee Agenda Packet then has the following additional information in regards to the Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness grant money:

GRPD’s strategic plan emphasizes building community trust within the framework of neighborhood-based policing, with one strategy emphasizing officer wellness. This project focuses on mental health wellness because repeated exposure to trauma and occupational stress can pose significant risks to officers’ mental health. Poor mental health can lead to poor judgement and poor performance, which damages public trust. This first major initiative of GRPD’s fledgling wellness program will acquire expert trainers with a background in first responder/military background through competitive bid. The curriculum will focus on resilience, stress management, PTSD, sleep hygiene, and first responder needs and culture. Eight (8) one-day workshops will be arranged to accommodate the patrol schedule, and peer support will promote the training as a positive wellness activity. The Wellness Coordinator will review surveys and other data with the Wellness Committee to track skills utilization and identify needs that may influence the design of the wellness program.

It is problematic that the person who will be doing the mental health and wellness training for the GRPD will be someone “with a background in first responder/military background.” Why do they need people with this kind of background to offer training for those who would potentially be dealing with PTSD? 

Equally problematic is the language around how all of this mental health and wellness training is critical for building community trust. The statement above says, “Poor mental health can lead to poor judgement and poor performance, which damages public trust.” While there may be some truth to this dynamic, the fact is that whenever the GRPD engages in cases that have received some media attention and calls for community accountability, the Chief of Police always says that the GRPD officers involved always “acted appropriately.” If the Chief of Police is saying that his officers acted appropriately, then it would be reasonable to say that it has little to do with cops who have poor mental health and are using poor judgement.

Let us look at a recent case where the GRPD acted appropriately, but falsely arrested a Black man, simple because he “fit the description.” On September 3, the GRPD responded to a call about a breaking and entering. Several police officers stopped a Black man who “fit the description,” and then called for backup, simply because the Black man who was falsely accused, did not obey the cops. The Chief of Police defended the action of the officers who arrested the Black man who was falsely accused, saying once again that these officers followed protocol. It should be stated that the Kent County Prosecutors office dropped the charges last week against the Black man who was falsely arrested on September 3rd.

In this case, like so many others, the people who are in need of mental health and wellness support, are the people who are being harassed, intimidated and arrested – often at gunpoint – by the GRPD. Why are there no US Department of Justice funds being made available for the victims of how the GRPD does policing in this community?

In addition, if the GRPD emphasizes the need to build community trust, these kinds of cases, along with so many others, will do nothing more than create even more distrust between the GRPD and the community, particularly Black and Brown communities.

Despite this recent history, the City Commission approved the $120,000 grant from the Department of Justice to help cops who regularly stop Black residents at gun point.

More funding for the GRPD approved

In the City Commission Agenda packet for the November 9th meeting (pages 13 & 14), there are additional items for the GRPD that the commissioners approved for funding. The first item was a new low light camera for $11,599, to be purchased from Crime Point Inc., a company that specializes in surveillance.

A second item for the GRPD that was approved was 2 radar speed trailers for the Mobile GR department from Kustom Signals, Inc. for the total amount of $24,824. Kustom Signals Inc. has their own blog, with content which is always from a pro-cop perspective, such as their post about Riot Police and Crowd Control.

A third and final item that was approved for the GRPD for the purchase, delivery, and installation of exercise equipment for the Police Department from Strengthio Fitness for the amount of $47,838.20. 

So it seems that the GRPD, despite their ongoing harassment of activists and their policing practices that disproportionately target Black and Brown neighborhoods, has received lots more taxpayer money to use against the residents of Grand Rapids and to provide even more support for cops, even if those cops traumatize members of the community. 

In anticipation of Whitmer veto, Michigan GOP has begun a petition campaign to allow the use of public money for private and religious education

November 7, 2021

Last week, it was announced that the Let MI Kids Learn ballot committee was forming, in order to begin collecting signatures for a ballot campaign that would essentially support the very legislation that Gov. Whitmer plans to veto.

On October 24, we reported on the Senate and House bills that passed in the Michigan Legislature, bills that will do what Betsy DeVos has been attempting to do since 2000, with her failed school voucher ballot initiative.

In the article from late October, we laid out 4 tactics that the DeVos family has been using to get public money to support private and religious education. Those tactics include – the financial backing of candidates who would embrace such policies, to attacked public teacher unions, to utilize the expertise of far right think tanks in Michigan, and to create their own education-centered non-profit, the Great Lakes Education Project. 

The passage of this legislation was a test for Governor Whitmer: she could stand with families and children, or she could stand with special interests. Sadly, but predictably, Whitmer chose the special interests – as she always has. But Michigan’s constitution gives voters a recourse, and our petition drive will allow voters to expand opportunities for children, even if Whitmer won’t.”

The above comment comes from Rep. Bryan Posthumus, one of the state legislators that the DeVos family has provided thousands of dollars in campaign contributions. The DeVos family, especially through the group the West Michigan Policy Forum, has continually attacked public teacher unions, which is the second tactic they use. The DeVos-led effort around these bills also has the support of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which is the 3rd tactic they employ. Lastly, the DeVos-created Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP) has been a major champion of these bills and will likely support the ballot initiative that the Let MI Kids Learn organization is moving forward with.

Let MI Kids Learn needs to collect 340,000 valid signatures from registered voters for both petitions in six months. 

Spokesperson for Let MI Kids Learn, Fred Wszolek was quoted in the Detroit News as saying, “This exciting legislation gives new opportunities to learn to children, and new choices to tens of thousands of Michigan parents. But Gov. Whitmer stands in the schoolhouse door with her veto pen, determined to strip families of any choice, and deny children the money they deserve for educational opportunities. We’re just as determined to veto Whitmer’s veto with our petition.”

Wszolek is the co-founder of the Lansing-based organization know as Strategy Works, has worked on numerous GOP candidate broadcast ad campaigns, but specializes in the passage and defeat of ballot proposals.

Fred Wszolek recently headed up a ballot initiative for Unlock Michigan, which is a campaign to prevent the Governor from adopting certain emergency policies, like we saw in 2020, when Gov. Whitmer mandated lockdown orders as a means of minimizing the harm of the COVID virus.

Interestingly enough, the address for the Unlock Michigan campaign – 2145 Commons Parkway, Okemos, MI 48864 – is the same address being used for Let Mi Kids Learn campaign. The 2145 Commons Parkway, Okemos address is also the address for Doster Law Offices, PLLC. Doster Law Officers was founded by Eric Doster, who was longest-serving General Counsel in the history of the Michigan Republican Party, having served in this position from 1992 to 2017. 

It would seem that the GOP is well organized for the Let MI Kids Learn campaign. It will be interesting to see how the Democratic Party, the MEA and those who are committed to public education respond to the Let MI Kids Learn campaign.